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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Do Empathy

By Sarah Watts
The Science of Us
Originally published May 18, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

When we talk about empathy, we tend to talk about it as an unqualified good thing. Research has shown that empathy is associated with kindness and helping behaviors, while its absence, clinically referred to as psychopathy, is associated with manipulation and criminal deviance. Empathy, some scientists have concluded, allows us to function well with others and survive as a species.

But what people often don’t talk about is how even a good thing like empathy can still be emotionally draining. Empathic people who easily take on other people’s feelings can spend their days feeling overwhelmed, hurt, and heavyhearted. Empathy, in other words, can be downright stressful. So would it be fair to say that sometimes it’s unhealthy?

A paper published earlier this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology set out to answer exactly that. According to the authors, there are “two routes” to empathy. The first is imagining how someone else might feel in a given circumstance, called “imagine-other-perspective-taking,” or IOPT. The second is actually imagining yourself in the other person’s situation, called “imagine-self-perspective-taking,” or ISPT. With IOPT, you acknowledge another person’s feelings; with ISPT, you take on that person’s feelings as your own.

The article is here.